Jai Uttal

Jai Uttal Biography

While he began his journey as a child, studying classical piano, Jai’s first love was the traditional music of Appalachia—a sound that’s found its way into his recordings on a regular basis ever since. His exploratory nature soon took him even further afield, resulting in a move to California, where he immersed himself in studies with the legendary Ali Akbar Khan (Ravi Shankar)—with whom he maintains a musical connection to the present day.

Jai then began regular pilgrimages to India, living among the Bauls, the wandering street musicians of Bengal, and singing with the kirtan wallahs in the temples of his guru, the highly revered saint, Neem Karoli Baba. Upon returning to the states, he began weaving those variegated threads together in earnest, earning widespread critical acclaim with the first recording issued under his own name—1991’s Footprints, on which he teamed with jazz icon Don Cherry.

Soon thereafter, Uttal formed the Pagan Love Orchestra, a loosely-knit aggregation that recorded several acclaimed albums, notably Shiva Station, on which he worked closely with producer Bill Laswell—a contributor on Thunder Love as well. With those musicians—many of whom, like keyboardist Peter Apfelbaum, remain in his camp—he’s created a sonic landscape that’s constantly shifting, but eminently relatable at every turn.

“Music has always been the way for me to feel whole and to feel free,” he explains. “On another level, it’s been the way for me to feel pain and channel it. When I am doing music, it’s as if all my insides are calling out. People have said they find great joy in what comes forth when that happens, and if that’s the case, I feel I’ve done what I am here to do.”

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